Here’s something you probably aren’t doing when you’re not doing that other thing you’re supposed to do, says Sarah DiGiulio in The Huffington Post on June 25, 2016.
Some of us wash the dishes as soon as we’re done eating, schedule our next teeth cleaning on the way out of our last visit, do our homework and get expense reports in on time.
This isn’t you, right? Well, then, we’re sorry to say that a new study finds that people who procrastinate can be three times more likely to have trouble sleeping.
“And the worse the procrastination, the worse the sleep complaint,” study author Ilana Hairston, a senior lecturer at the Tel Aviv Yafo Academic College, told The Huffington Post.
But here’s the good news: Hairston suspects it’s the process of procrastination that leads to sleep troubles. The culprit behind your trouble in bed may be the negative energy you spend worrying about that totally blank word document or unresolved email chain. It’s likely that those pangs of “I should have done that already” weighing on our conscience add to sleep trouble, Hairston explained.
She and her colleagues asked 598 people questions about how much they tend to procrastinate and how well they tend to sleep. Those who said they procrastinated the most were one and a half to three times more likely to have clinically significant insomnia symptoms than those who said they procrastinated less.
The study also showed that it was the early birds who definitely get the worm.
Participants also answered questions about whether they tend to be night owls or morning types. The 64 people in the study who reported going to bed earlier at night and waking up earlier in the morning also reported not procrastinating as much and not having as many sleep complaints as the night owls.
Some research suggests there are distinct personality traits for night owls and morning people, Hairston said, and those distinct traits might explain why morning people were less likely to be procrastinators than night owls. But more research would be needed to know for sure.
The negative effects of negative thinking
What research has shown is that negative mood and a tendency to mull things over are associated with both procrastination and insomnia. And that’s why even though this data only shows a correlation between putting things off and sleep trouble — and therefore cannot show with certainty why one might cause the other — Hairston and her colleagues suspect that negative thinking plays a role in linking the two.
Worrying and ruminating over things can cause a negative emotional response in the brain, experts say, and that physiological response is what they suspect keeps people with insomnia awake. That’s why Hairston and her colleagues theorize the same mechanism might be at work when people put things off.
“Based on this current understanding of insomnia, the cognitive and emotional effects of procrastination could cause sleep difficulties,” Hairston said, though she explained that more research is needed to show for sure.
Don’t panic yet, procrastinators
Sleep expert Hrayr Attarian, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital who wasn’t involved in the study, said the correlation between procrastination and sleep issues was interesting.
“I think people should be cautious about the correlation between procrastination and insomnia,” Attarian told HuffPost. He pointed out that the people in the study who were categorized as poor sleepers reported having symptoms of insomnia, but were not necessarily diagnosed with chronic insomnia.
“It’s more important to note that the real issue is procrastination. If people can address their procrastination, then sleep quality will follow,” he said.
Sarah DiGiulio is The Huffington Post’s sleep reporter. You can contact her at sarah.digiulio at huffingtonpost.com